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Inevitable Recidivism: The Origin and Centrality of an Urban Legend

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Abstract:

This paper examines the pervasive conviction that sex offenders – particularly child molesters - will continue to re-offend. The belief in inevitable recidivism has become an unexamined orthodoxy among politicians and the general public. The majority of Americans think that sex offenders will re-offend, no matter what treatment they receive or punishment they face. Ironically, however, empirical evidence on sex offender recidivism shows just the opposite; sex offenders can and do control themselves.
This belief in inevitable recidivism turns out to be absolutely essential to both the justification for, and the structure of, the sexually violent predator (SVP) laws. The public clamored for the passage of laws to protect them against inevitable recidivists and legislators happily obliged. Immutability was written into the very structure of the laws. At the SVP hearing, the state is constitutionally required to prove that an individual is presently dangerous even though the fact that the individual has been imprisoned for years means that there is almost always no recent overt act to demonstrate danger. The state got around this problem by defining it away; the SVP law stated that any act could prove present danger even if it had occurred many years prior. I begin the paper by first examining the assumptions underlining the belief in inevitable recidivism. I then turn to the U.S. Supreme Court case Kansas v Hendricks (1997) [1] to discuss how the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the sexually violent predator laws based almost solely on Mr. Hendrick’s professed inability to control his urge to molest children. I then consider what empirical evidence actually exists on sex offender recidivism. Finally, I discuss the functional importance of this belief in framing and justifying the sexually violent predator laws.
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Name: ASC Annual Meeting
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http://www.asc41.com


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p373090_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Lave, Tamara. "Inevitable Recidivism: The Origin and Centrality of an Urban Legend" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASC Annual Meeting, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p373090_index.html>

APA Citation:

Lave, T. "Inevitable Recidivism: The Origin and Centrality of an Urban Legend" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASC Annual Meeting, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p373090_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: This paper examines the pervasive conviction that sex offenders – particularly child molesters - will continue to re-offend. The belief in inevitable recidivism has become an unexamined orthodoxy among politicians and the general public. The majority of Americans think that sex offenders will re-offend, no matter what treatment they receive or punishment they face. Ironically, however, empirical evidence on sex offender recidivism shows just the opposite; sex offenders can and do control themselves.
This belief in inevitable recidivism turns out to be absolutely essential to both the justification for, and the structure of, the sexually violent predator (SVP) laws. The public clamored for the passage of laws to protect them against inevitable recidivists and legislators happily obliged. Immutability was written into the very structure of the laws. At the SVP hearing, the state is constitutionally required to prove that an individual is presently dangerous even though the fact that the individual has been imprisoned for years means that there is almost always no recent overt act to demonstrate danger. The state got around this problem by defining it away; the SVP law stated that any act could prove present danger even if it had occurred many years prior. I begin the paper by first examining the assumptions underlining the belief in inevitable recidivism. I then turn to the U.S. Supreme Court case Kansas v Hendricks (1997) [1] to discuss how the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the sexually violent predator laws based almost solely on Mr. Hendrick’s professed inability to control his urge to molest children. I then consider what empirical evidence actually exists on sex offender recidivism. Finally, I discuss the functional importance of this belief in framing and justifying the sexually violent predator laws.


Similar Titles:
Mass Urbanization and the Political Origins of National Urban Policies: A Comparative Historical Analysis

Urban Legends: How Teaching Myths Strangle Progressive Education in Urban Settings


 
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